Vive la France: What Is Bastille Day and Why Should You Celebrate It?

July 13, 2018 / by Megan Polom

Eiffel Tower fireworks at dusk.Francophiles, we know you’ve had your Bastille Day plans set for months, but the yet uninitiated might be wondering what the excitement is all about. Don't worry — Mango Languages has you covered!

We do our best to fill our calendars with global celebrations all year long, and this month we’re giving you the rundown on the facts, fun, and festivities for one of France’s national holidays, Bastille Day.

Let's set the scene: The day has finally arrived, and you’re ready to celebrate. Your record player is blasting the Les Misérables soundtrack, the crêpes sucrées (or crêpes salées; we’re not picky) are bubbling in the pan, and your favorite Truffaut film is downloaded and ready to go. Break out the blue, white, and red — la fête nationale, as the French call it, is here — and we've got all you need to know in order to start celebrating.  

History buffs, this is your day

Dive into the rich history of Bastille Day, and you’ll immediately get lost in the fascinating politics, personalities, and high stakes surrounding the 1789 Storming of the Bastille, a notorious fortress-prison in Paris. Whether you get your history fix via books or film, there are endless accounts of the events surrounding this historic day and its global impact.

We’ll give you the short version for now: Le quatorze Juillet [July 14] marks the beginning of the French Revolution, and France’s first major step towards abolishing an oppressive monarchy. As tensions from class inequality, looming economic disaster, and a nationwide famine boiled over, French revolutionaries marched on the Bastille demanding access to firearms and releasing its prisoners.

Just weeks later, France took important steps toward enlightened ideas such as liberty, equality, and fraternity, with the abolition of feudalism and implementation of new citizen rights. A year later, the people of France celebrated the event’s first anniversary and their national unity during la fête de la Fédération, a huge four-day feast with fireworks, wine, and running naked through the streets. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, the peace did not last, but Bastille Day symbolizes the revolutionary spirit, fraternal harmony, and hopes for a more equal France that ignited a revolution that would transform the world.

Quick fact check: Did Marie Antoinette really say 'let them eat cake'?

One of the most famous lines from the French Revolution may have not ever been uttered at all. To begin with, the original French sentence was actually something like, 'qu’ils mangent de la brioche' [let them eat brioche]. (Brioche, a bread made of eggs and butter, would still be far too decadent for the average frenchman during a nationwide famine.) Either way, mistranslated and attributed to the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette, 'let them eat cake' has become a phrase synonymous with an out-of-touch aristocracy — but there is no actual proof Marie Antoinette ever spoke those words.

How to get your French on

La fête nationale is celebrated all over France with parades and fireworks. If you're lucky enough to be in the city where the historical storming of the Bastille took place, Paris hosts a traditional military parade in the morning and a spectacular fireworks display at night in the Champ de Mars.

Of course, we couldn't talk about holiday celebrations without mentioning the food. Need we explain the glorious miracle that is French cuisine? Probably not, but humor us while we indulge in the hors-d'œuvres, fromages, and pâtisseries of our dreams. The French know how to keep it classy on July 14 — meeting with friends and family for BBQs and picnics, laying out an assortment of simple treats like cheese, pastries, sandwiches, and charcuterie. Afterwards, they might unwind by playing a game of pétanque.

For the rest of us...

For those of us who aren't so lucky, Bastille Day is the perfect excuse to visit that enticingly fancy French place in your neighborhood, go to one of the many Bastille Day celebrations across the U.S., or throw your own three-course French dinner party. Whatever you do, treat yourself. After all, today is all about celebrating the unique and often delicious traditions of France.

Mango makes it authentic

This Bastille Day, use Mango’s French language courses to learn about authentic culture and pick up relevant, useful conversation skills. Learn how to describe your culinary masterpieces, introduce yourself to new friends, and make plans for later ('Let’s meet at the Fireworks! I’ll bring wine.') Really though, bring wine.  

Celebrate Bastille Day, celebrate la fête nationale. Celebrate in two languages and you’ll have twice the fun. Log into your Mango Languages profile or sign up for free to start learning French. C'est si beau!

 

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 What are your favorite ways to celebrate French culture? Share with us in the comment section below!

Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Megan Polom

Written by Megan Polom

Fresh off an adventure of a lifetime teaching English in Busan, South Korea, Megan is our Junior Copywriter. A coffee and podcast addict, you can find her at the nearest cafe with a book in hand, or earbuds in and out for a hike. She is currently learning Korean and Spanish, and hopes to tackle French next.

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